The garden is a small patch of land on Randall, just three yards squared, on which Cora grows vegetables. The garden was passed down from Ajarry to Mabel, and—when Mabel ran away—to Cora. The garden is described as Cora’s “inheritance,” and thus it is a physical manifestation of the personal qualities Cora inherited from her mother and grandmother: the ability to persevere from Ajarry, and the courage for rebellion from Mabel. Endurance and rebellion are also both contained within the garden itself, as the garden presents the opportunity for Cora to take ownership over something, thereby reclaiming ownership over herself. When both Cora and Mabel run away, they bring produce from the garden to help sustain them; the garden thus becomes a symbol of life, possibility, the future, and freedom. Since familial relationships under slavery are filled with loss, trauma, and separation, tending to the garden becomes a kind of substitute for the nurture and care normally practiced within the family. When Blake tries to take over the garden for his dog, Cora fiercely defends it, foreshadowing her defense of her own life and freedom throughout the novel.
Cora’s Garden Quotes in The Underground Railroad
Feast or no feast, this was where Cora ended up every Sunday when their half day of work was done: perched on her seat, looking for things to fix. She owned herself for a few hours every week was how she looked at it, to tug weeds, pluck caterpillars, thin out the sour greens, and glare at anyone planning incursions on her territory. Tending to her bed was necessary maintenance but also a message that she had not lost her resolve since the day of the hatchet.
The dirt at her feet had a story, the oldest story Cora knew.